2015 and 2016 were both years that did not just leave RSL fans wanting, they left many RSL fans angry. It was not that long ago that Real Salt Lake was consistently a top-of-MLS competitor. It was not uncommon to reach a tournament final every so often. Playoffs seemed like a given. The feeling around the club and fan base was one of grassroots excitement. There were some big changes for a few years in a row that a focused club like RSL is not accustomed to. Change is hard anywhere, but in sports it can be ruthless.
That said, there is a lot reason to be excited for 2017. Let’s go through some of the biggest contributing factors.
1) Yura Movsisyan had a true offseason for the first time in two years. It was not your ordinary offseason either. Over the winter, Yura got a lucrative and lengthy contract extension that solidified his position as one of the faces of the franchise for years to come. He has spoken repeatedly about how he can now just focus on playing while living in a great city with his family. He has now experienced a season in a much-changed MLS and is familiar with what is in many ways a new league, and he will be the first person to tell you that he did not quite reach his potential last year. Watch out for what he accomplishes this season.
2) Albert Rusnak is the heir to Javier Morales and is already earning plenty of praise from his new teammates. The veterans of the team seem genuinely excited by his quality. We have all heard multiple times that he went through the Manchester City youth system, but let’s not forget that he scored both goals in the league championship game in Holland just a couple years ago. That is the kind of player you want, someone that makes big plays in big games. He has some pressure with the shoes he has to fill, but it looks like he is up to the task.
3) We cannot draw too many conclusions from preseason, but all indications are that Jordan Allen will be taking that coveted third forward starting spot left vacant by Burrito Martinez. His play in the month or so leading up to the season opener has been pretty impressive and he looks like he is going to hold on to the assumed position with a death grip. That drive should play in his and Real Salt Lake’s favor.
4) I cannot think of a time when RSL had a deeper bench than they do right now. You could make a strong argument that they have had stronger spines down the middle of the field in years past, but it would be difficult to argue that they have every had more depth. Something that has hurt Real Salt Lake (and many sports teams) in the past is not being able to adequately fill a position when a key player goes down to injury. From the looks of things, RSL will not just be able to fill a position in a time of need, they will have players scratching and clawing for minutes if they are not getting the time they think they should. That is a great problem to have.
5) When a player or coach does an interview, you can sort of tell when they are giving you a canned public response rather than a true gut-check answer. There are times when things are clearly not going well and something is wrong but a player or coach interview will do their best to mitigate the situation to the best of their ability. But the sense I get coming out of preseason is that all the players and coaches are genuinely feeling really good about the balance of the players they have and how much everyone is ready for a return to glory. “Excited” is probably the word of the year so far. If the players are looking forward to this season, so should we.